The ocean has taken up 90% of global heating since 1970, and the rate of ocean warming is increasing. By absorbing excess CO2 the ocean has also become more acidic. These changes – coupled with the many other pressure’s we’re putting on the ocean – threaten the health of vital marine ecosystems, from polar sea ice to tropical coral reefs.
But if we look after our marine ecosystems, they can play a vital role in pulling greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and enabling people and nature to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.
To protect and restore our ocean, we need to tackle climate change – and to tackle climate change, we need to protect and restore our ocean.
You cannot protect the oceans without solving climate change and you can’t solve climate change without protecting the oceans.- US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry
To guide these efforts, WWF has published a Blueprint for a Living Planet: Four Principles for Ocean-Climate Action. The report aims to provide practical guidance on using global commitments like the Paris climate agreement, policy frameworks and financial mechanisms to unleash the potential of ocean-climate solutions.
The four principles:
1. Raise ambition and urgently deliver stronger and sustained mitigation and adaptation action
2. Make nature a key part of the solution
3. Put people at the centre
4. Join up the climate and ocean finance agendas
© Antonio Busiello / WWF-US
The ocean provides enormous opportunities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at scale. Countries need to capitalize on this potential by strengthening ocean-related actions in the climate change plans – including their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement and their national adaptation plans.
Belize's Coastal Climate Commitments
The Belize Barrier Reef is home to nearly 1,400 species, including endangered hawksbill turtles and six threatened species of sharks. Together with mangrove forests and seagrass beds, the reef supports fisheries and a thriving tourist industry, and helps to protect the coastal communities from storms.
But while these ecosystems can help the country mitigate and adapt to climate change, climate change and other human-led changes threaten their future.
Recognizing their importance to people, nature and the climate, Belize has made conserving its coastal ecosystems a key part of the development of its 2020 nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Climate Agreement.
We’ve been working with government of Belize and other partners to improve scientific understanding of the climate value of its coastal ecosystems, and to help monitor progress towards climate targets.
© Antonio Busiello
A key part of this is protecting and restoring coastal “blue carbon” habitats: mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrasses, kelp forests, mussel beds and other habitats can all help fight climate change by absorbing and storing carbon. They can also build the resilience of ecosystems and communities in the face of a changing climate, and help protect against rising sea levels and extreme weather events brought on by climate change.
Mangroves and Seagrass: Blue Carbon Champs
Mangrove forests are some of the world’s most valuable coastal ecosystems – but they’re being destroyed at an alarming rate. We’ve teamed up with Conservation International, IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International and others to form the Global Mangrove Alliance. Our target is to expand the global extent of mangrove habitat by 20% by the year 2030 – helping to absorb carbon emissions and protect communities from climate impacts. The Global Mangrove Alliance aims to catalyse significant investments to help improve the resilience of coastal communities and the well-being of 10 million people through restoration and conservation projects.
Seagrass is an incredible ally in the fight against climate change. Seagrasses can capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. Even though it covers less than 1% of the seafloor, it accounts for 10-18% of total ocean carbon storage. But we’re destroying them at a rate of 7% per year around the world. The UK lost over 90% of its seagrass meadows during the last century, but we’re working with partners to restore 2,500 hectares of this amazing habitat around the UK by 2050.
© Justin Jin / WWF France
Whether it’s creating marine protected areas or restoring habitats, ocean-climate solutions need to respect human rights, cultural heritage and people’s well-being. It’s particular important to secure the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities and to draw on their traditional knowledge and ocean stewardship.
WWF Initiatives walk the walk
Accelerating coastal community-led conservation
We’re working with coastal communities all over the world to help them obtain the skills, capacity and legal rights they need to effectively manage the natural resources they depend upon. By supporting local people to restore and protect critical marine and coastal habitats, we’re helping to build climate resilience and livelihood opportunities.
For example, our women’s savings and loan groups in the Solomon Islands have helped women start 145 small businesses since 2013, which are helping reduce communities’ dependence on overstretched fisheries.
Coral Reef Rescue
Climate change could wipe out 90% of coral reefs by 2050 – but we’re determined to give the most climate-resilient reefs a fighting chance to survive, so they can regenerate the coral reefs of the future. The Coral Reef Rescue Initiative is working to build the resilience of both reefs and the communities who depend on them in seven countries – Indonesia, Philippines, Cuba, Fiji, Tanzania, Solomon Islands, Madagascar.
WWF worked with the European Commission, the World Resources Institute and the European Investment Bank to develop a set of principles for investing in a sustainable blue economy. They provide a framework for banks, insurers and investors who want to support a prosperous, healthy ocean. These Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles have been adopted by dozens of leading financial institutions.
Reefs, risk and resilience
Fiji’s Great Sea Reef is vital to the country’s economy – but is also at risk from climate change. As part of the Great Sea Reef Resilience Programme, we’ve helped develop a partnership called Matanataki (a Fijian word meaning ‘action’) that aims to attract investment from public and private sources into projects that can help safeguard the reef. Matanataki is developing a US$75 million pipeline of investment opportunities in high-impact sectors such as waste and plastics management, fisheries and agriculture.
WWF is a member of the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA), which brings together governments, the finance and insurance sectors, environmental organizations and stakeholders from the global South to develop and scale finance and insurance products that incentivise investment in nature and provide returns for investors. ORRAA’s goals are to drive $500 million of investment into marine and coastal nature-based solutions by 2030, and to surface at least 15 novel finance products by 2025.
We’ve partnered with Finance Earth to develop the Blue Impact Fund – a pioneering impact fund that invests in sustainable seafood and aquatic plant enterprises in the UK. Together, we’re developing a pipeline of community-led enterprises that can generate attractive returns for investors while also supporting ocean resilience and recovery.